French protest

France is on fire as anger grows over Macron’s pension plans

Tense protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to reform the French pensions system escalated overnight.

The ninth day of nationwide protests and strikes over the issue saw Bordeaux city hall setting on fire, water cannon fired in Rennes, tear gas used in Nantes, a police station attacked in Brittany and large protests in Marseille, Nice and Toulon in the south.

“There were many protests, which sometimes lasted until very late last night, turning violent notably in Paris,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told Cnews on Friday (March 24).

A total of 903 fires of “street furniture or garbage” were identified in the French capital — where close to 9,600 tons of trash lie on the street because garbage workers are on strike — and 457 individuals were arrested overnight across France. Some 441 policemen were injured in the nationwide protests, according to Darmanin, a right-wing hardliner in Macron’s centrist government.

Up to 1.08 million people across the Gallic country took to the streets over legislation to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, that was pushed through parliament without a vote, according to figures from the interior ministry. The protesters say they’ll keep going, that there may be other means to get it overturned or they hope they’ll bring the government down.

Unions meanwhile have called for a tenth day of strikes and protest for March 28 that would coincide with a state visit by the United Kingdom’s new king, Charles III, his first international trip since acceding to the throne in September 2022.

But Macron telephoned the monarch this morning to ask him to stay in the UK after a call to 10 Downing Street with the same advice, the Daily Mail reported. Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said that the symbolism of a state banquet at Versailles as France burns would have been the president’s ‘Marie Antoinette moment’.

Rights watchdogs accused French police of brutality. Human Rights Watch told AFP it was very concerned about “what appears to be abusive police practices”. It said they echoed similar “abusive crowd control and anti-riot tactics” during the anti-government “Yellow Vest” movement in 2018-2019 during Macron’s previous term in office.

The severity of the clashes between protesters and the police – and scale of the wider movement – suggest that the fight against the reforms is far from over.

One protester told the FT yesterday: “We’ve been going to protests since January and originally it was against the pensions reform. Now it’s transformed into anger about our democracy.”

With reporting by AFP, Al Jazeera, Politico,